Social Networking, Stage 2


Social networking has evolved in ways similar to the early days of the web. It will lead to a new way of working in the enterprise.



In the early days of the web, the stampede was for ecommerce — the shopping and consumer phenomena. Subsequently, the supply chain promise crystallized and lastly inside the enterprise. And it totally changed the way we work: we are now global, outsourced enterprises. We see this same pattern emerging with social networking.

Social networking so far has clearly been a phenomenon for the consumer side of the business process. Starbucks uses social media (example here) for marketing and promotions. Social is used for a wide variety of other activities such as event management (London Olympics Social and QR), product information, and interacting for new product ideas.

But social is now firmly within the enterprise — Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) — helping companies interact and collaborate with trading partners across channels and their supply chains, as well as for knowledge management within the enterprise.

Enterprise Social Networking’s various sharing technologies are putting a lot of pressure on the enterprise in various ways: the CIO has to monitor sharing and verify that it is secure; the legal department is engaged in intellectual property (IP) and privacy issues. There are corporate concerns of competition vs. employees’ desire to find effective methods to get their work done. And there are other changes that could be either promising or threatening for the future of the enterprise as these technologies become more mainstream.

Last year we researched the supply chain manager’s attitudes toward ESN and proposed a more suite-like approach to support robust collaborative business processes. But more expedient methods are also very important, and at this point, growing rapidly as millions adopt person-to-person (P2P) content sharing. Witness the explosion of the Box, Dropbox and YouSendIT phenomena.

In research that we have done about professional development, our respondents stated that knowledge sharing was even more important than getting a raise. Knowledge not only strengthens the enterprise’s IP, market awareness and ability to grow, it makes employees better able to function in diverse and global situations and empowers employees to make better decisions.1

Stage 1 — Transaction-based Economy

If we consider that all the technology we built in the first era of IT basically made it easier to trade — creating and managing transactions — can we now agree that many of the systems we are building today: search, the visibility and monitoring systems, collaboration platforms, and social networking are more about creating and sharing knowledge?

Stage 2 — The Knowledge-based Enterprise

A few months back, we surveyed our audience about how they would use ESN. What was interesting to note was the demand for something other than the social networks and search capabilities available on public websites. When it comes to B2B activities — trading partner collaboration, knowledge acquisition, and problem resolution, professionals are looking for an enterprise solution.

Why Enterprise? Social Platforms Are Not Enterprise Operating Systems

Within the enterprise and in any creative process, in fact, we need what are called ‘content creation tools.’ These activities are still the domain of software, desktop platforms, and fairly traditional approaches toward platform development.2 These are operating systems and robust software tools that are reliable and scalable. Broadcasting content, on the other hand, can be done via simple links or full web pages.3 To clarify this, Facebook and LinkedIn have no content creation tools. You can’t create graphics or documents on these sites. Of course, content consumption can be done with many kinds of devices — tablets, smart phones, video, and even print.

In addition, the ability to actually collaborate requires live interaction: thus collaboration technologies (web and video meetings). Although mobile will be a huge catalyst for social, it needs to incorporate a stronger platform for enterprise use.4 And that is why we see the emergence of new or re-architected enterprise applications incorporating social within the planning or ERP systems. Examples include NetSuite’s inclusion of Box for document/content sharing, Cloud Logistics, a new social-based logistics solution, SYSPRO, Epicor, Infor and, of course, SAP.5

But, we are really at the beginning of this knowledge-based enterprise. The technology is here, but it is still a bit clunky for content creation, sharing and collaborating all in one platform. Behind the scenes, even as the enterprise applications embed some of these technologies, are a variety of separate service and technology businesses — hosting, storage and backup services — as well as the integrated tools. So there is more to be done. We might need a new operating system underneath all this that has the elements of social and search, yet is geared toward the enterprise.

Beyond Denial — Take the Next Steps

If you don’t provide a solution for your employees, they will find one themselves. People find ways to get things done. And the web is open to all sorts of social tools (to be explored in subsequent articles).

Getting in front of these changes will not be easy. So it is critical to begin a dialogue in the enterprise now. This is a cross-functional issue that will require the participation of key stakeholders from IT, legal, HR, risk management, supply chain and others (depending on the process). Some functions, by nature, are not collaborative, and this points to the huge challenge facing all enterprises. For example, compliance and legal are rule generators and experts at restricting outside communications. However, the risk of not including their perspective could be catastrophic. As we said, this won’t be easy.

Some practical issues to explore:

  • How will guidelines and standards be created for your enterprise social network?
  • Who is accountable to manage the social group?
  • How will security be maintained for valid members only? How will only appropriate content be allowed?
  • Educating employees about legal and security issues is critical to ensure compliance with the legal agreements between partners about sharing IP (NDA, non-competes) and to ensure that proper marking on IP copywriting and privacy policies are in place.
  • Accommodating the vast storage requirement for the reams of content that may move from office desktops into the corporate locker — large non-optimized files like PowerPoint, graphics, media files, etc.
  • Telco performance needs to be ensured for office-based video conference (telepresence) applications.
  • ‘Miss Manners’ for social networking. How do you want your employees to conduct themselves in this barrier breaking information world? Humor aside, this is not a trivial issue, but has profound repercussions for the culture and brand of the firm.

There are other significant outcomes for the enterprise that we will explore in subsequent columns.

Conclusion: Unpredictable Outcomes? Develop a Dialogue Now

We know from the world wide social network that there are unpredictable outcomes. The viral factor of something we might consider meaningless, but that resonates with others, can have positive or very negative consequences. For management, this is the dilemma: we want a knowledgeable and empowered enterprise that is innovative and agile. You hear this constantly from the executive suite. And sometimes they mean it. But what might be shared about the organization and how it is presented in this open world probably won’t meet their image. Another unpleasant but important issue is operational risk. For large complex firms, being informed about potential risk factors as part of the process can often avoid disaster.

There is this element of openness that helps the work get done better — much better. So the question is: How open do we want to become? What should be shared? Many companies have not faced these questions. And there is no easy answer. However, we do know that without dialogue about these issues and education and engagement by employees, we have no answers, which leads to a bigger risk of unintended consequences.

In this article, many topics from enterprise social, operating systems and platforms, content tools, security, and organizational dynamics were opened for further discussion. Write us with your ideas at or Tweet @AnnGrackin

Further Reading:

Enterprise Social Networking in the Supply Chain

Further Reading on Social Networking in the Supply Chain


B2B Gateway discussion in SorryDropBox


1 As well as make them professionally more portable — no job is forever. — Return to article text above
2 Most social networking tools merely share links to content created and posted in other locations. — Return to article text above
3 Using HTML — Return to article text above
4 Apple’s popular IOS is not an enterprise operating system. — Return to article text above
5 It will be interesting to see if and how Microsoft incorporates Yammer into the Dynamics side of their business. We’ll explore ESN solutions in this series. — Return to article text above

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.

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