A guide to evaluating Enterprise Social Networks (Part 4 & Conclusion)

In Part 1 we explored what a social network is and developed some categorisations.

In Part 2 we assessed the relevance to the enterprise in terms operational impact of each of these categories.

In Part 3 we established a business case for enterprise social networks and outlined the importance of such networks having a core purpose beyond the purely social.

In this, our concluding part, we look at three enterprise social networks; how they can add value and issues you may have in adopting them.

1: Microblogging

Proven in the public domain through platforms like Twitter, microblogging software is great at capturing status updates and curating digital content. Think of it as a ‘signposting’ mechanism.

Generally the business case is developed around innovation, intellectual property harvesting and better user engagement. Cost is often minimal and per user following an SaaS model.

As a result of our work with some customers evaluating microblogging platform deployments we developed some insights in this white paper. We concluded that:

  • The usefulness of the network is not always guaranteed, limiting adoption rates – a problem not faced by public social networks with their huge user numbers
  • Users can be cautious about contributing, limiting the value of the network
  • The feature set is often shallow when compared to other enterprise products

2: Collaborative Project Platform

These platforms have been around for many years and are predominantly on-premise in nature, i.e., servers & clients are located within the corporate network. They are very much IT owned and administered and external access is generally limited and expensive.

Typically there is substantial customisation work to be done before value can be realised – a good example would be a typical Sharepoint implementation. As they are complex platforms with robust, enterprise features sets it’s an expensive proposition.

These platforms are not inherently social but are given social features. There’s no tying of social to operational and the social features aren’t core. We particularly like this quote Euan Semple (@Euan) :

“I love the way clients have to spend money bashing faddish tools … into shape to do what a good BBS has done for decades.” (Twitter, 27/01/12)

These tools will do the job – but it will cost.

3: Virtual Operational Environment

Virtual Operational Environments (VOEs) have been in existence for some time but until now have been application/environment specific, expensive and difficult to implement. However, recent advances in browser, integration and cloud technology allow them to be implemented easily.

The right choice can offer:

  • In-line, seamless communications through rich media to ensure minimal ambiguity.
  • Focus on collaborative, social communities of users, particularly in terms of ensuring relevant data is made available.
  • Personalisation, ensuring each user has the data required to contribute.
  • A real-time view of the operational environment for situational awareness, control and response.
  • Extension to third parties such as consultants, suppliers, customers or partners.
  • Extension to mobile users.

The key to the VOE/OIC is the common purpose; the focus is on operational efficiency, with the community and social aspects as key methods for achieving this. The VOE/OIC should bring the whole together:

Sabisu - enterprise social networking around data

The business case can be made in terms of a specific point solution, such as monitoring and collaborating around KPIs, or more broadly in terms of enterprise visibility. Our experience is that OICs are often used to drive digital signage.

Recent advances in cloud computing permit the extension of the OIC to third parties such as suppliers and customers so they can instantly, visually be made aware of developing situations. In his manner business processes can be frictionless and agile.

In order for the OIC to be a genuine virtual environment, it must offer advanced collaboration capabilities. This allows not just the collaboration on real-­time data but also permits:

  • Curation of internal and external digital assets, as discussed above in the Microblogging section.
  • Propagation of best practice, using the community structure required for distributing data and resolving issues.
  • Collaborative project delivery, using the community structure and including advanced reporting using the dashboard reporting features.

This collaboration around core enterprise data within a social community structure adds up to significant operational impact. It changes the way the business works for the better.

Concluding Comments

Some final thoughts and conclusions in brief:

  • Enterprise social software does nothing. It adds no value. It makes no savings. It’s communities of users who deliver real value.
  • A ‘purposed’ network doesn’t need a critical mass of users to deliver value.
  • If social network is not designed into a product ground up, it may well be too expensive in terms of adoption period or effort to derive value from it.
  • Social features do not necessarily make a social platform.
  • Ease of configuration and use are crucial.
  • There are many ‘enterprise social’ vendors; there are few that have developed beyond simple collaboration.
  • High quality network is more important than a large network.
  • Public social networks work at massive scales; treat their lessons of success with care.
  • A well architected, purposed social network can add value at small scales and throughout an enterprise.

For further background on this series of posts and how we developed the concluding comments above, you can download our white paper.

As always we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, whether here on the blog, through email, on our Twitter feed or on the live platform itself.

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