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The five evils of enterprise social

The five evils of enterprise social

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

The history of enterprise collaboration technology is littered with abandoned platforms that were intended to "change everything." But many new social collaboration tools quickly end up on the shelf, collecting dust, unless there are compelling reasons to use it, and dramatic incentives for people to maintain it.

[ALSO: How social networking creates a collaboration culture]

Most businesses don't have the rationale or the staff to do this. That's why there are so many empty portals, and unused SharePoint sites, and the like. Enterprise social is the latest "New Great Thing" headed for the same fate. Here are five reasons why:

1. Enterprise social is considered "just an external branding tool." Many enterprise social vendors seem to think the primary value of social technology in corporations is to facilitate a running commentary about their products and services on external social media services, such as Twitter and Facebook. For a consumer-facing company, this is certainly important. But it can't stop there. The real business value lies in actionable social streams inside the business that are connected to real business processes.

2. Enterprise social doesn't integrate well. ERP and CRM tools are essential to the operation of most companies today. Sensing that social technology can impact the workplace, some of the more advanced vendors have added some social collaboration functions.

The most established is Salesforce Chatter, a great tool for Salesforce users to communicate with each other, broadcast "wins" and share leads. But Chatter doesn't integrate with any other critical platforms. For a salesperson to prove he's impacting the bottom line, he's got to find a record in the accounting or ERP system and attach it to Chatter. This extra step of switching context and searching for a record wastes time.

3. Enterprise social is detached from information and can lead to uninformed decisions. A chat between the VPs of finance and sales about the latest figures can easily happen in Yammer or Jive, but these platforms offer no inherent capability to provide supporting data. Wouldn't it be more useful to be able to drill down into the CRM system for a real-time confirmation of a hunch? When people don't have access to systems of record in their collaboration platforms, the risk of uninformed decision-making rises.

4. Enterprise social doesn't launch processes. Perhaps the biggest, or most general enterprise social "evil" is the fact that it is not meaningfully connected to the work of the business. Most enterprise social platforms talk about work, but work is done somewhere else. They don't let users initiate a process or delegate a task. The ability to act on a conversation is cumbersome. Because of the context switch required - emailing someone, looking something up in another system, chatting a colleague -there is a substantial likelihood the task will get dropped.

5. Enterprise social creates more silos. People put notes on the refrigerator because the fact that people have to eat makes it more likely notes will be seen and action will be taken. Enterprise social is like a note in a teenager's diary tucked under the bed upstairs - sure, the thought was recorded, but it's disconnected from the things people need to do each day.

After all the time, money and effort enterprises have spent trying to improve integration between people and systems through enterprise service buses, EDI, web services and APIs, enterprise social, in a way, is retrograde. There are already substantial silos in enterprises. There are silos within IT between business process management (BPM) and social media, and between other operational departments.

The solution is to marry the rigors of work automation with the reach and speed of social. We call this worksocial, and it delivers more than work automation or social ever could on their own.

For example, insurance claims outsourcer Crawford & Company has built a worksocial application called Crawford Community for catastrophe-related resource management. In a simple social interface and with a native-mobile app, it unites processes, rules, tasks, escalations and enterprise system data to do the real work of assigning adjusters, guiding them through inspections, completing forms and initiating claims.

Users see relevant events, collaborate and take action all in one social interface - regardless of the underlying systems of record involved. No more juggling screens and systems. When you can collaborate and execute in the same platform, in context, no matter where you are or what kind of device you're using, that's how silos are broken down. That's how work gets done.

Matthew Calkins has been Appian's CEO and Chairman of the Board since 1999. Prior to Appian, Mr. Calkins was an executive at MicroStrategy, a global leader in business intelligence software (he currently serves on the MicroStrategy Board of Directors). Mr. Calkins has been recognized as an Innovator and Influencer by InformationWeek, as Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young, as Executive of the Year by the American Business Awards, and as a top DC-area entrepreneur by Bisnow on Business.

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