Social networks and business applications integration : what the hell are vendors doing ?

In short : social network and business applications are the two complementary sides of anyone’s work and the tools that support each one should break down the artificial wall that separates them. Vendors are working on it but some approaches of social/business integration show a real misunderstanding of what end users need.

Heretical thinking three years ago, it’s now obvious that social and business process words do not compete but complete and that synergies between them may increase.

The idea is quite easy to get : business apps tell how to do and host problems or elements that make collaboration necessary (networking being a collaboration catalyst but not replacing it). Social tools are place where people and information can be found to solve a problem, make a decision and organize conversations to achieve goals. From an user’s point of view, it’s inconceivable to play the role how human middleware, take information in a tool, share them in another, go back to the first once the problem is solved…and I don’t even mention que problem of transferring data from one to another. A real headache that explains why the center of gravity of the workplace poorly migrated to social platforms, employees preferring to stay when things happen instead of wasting their energy.

The inevitable socialization of business applications

IDC puts it quite well :

“By 2020, we won’t be talking about social applications because all applications have to be social,” (Michael Fauscette)

Same at IBM (same source) :

“Social becomes less about seeing a notification and liking it and more about gathering information, using it to participate in a process and creating leadership” (Kevin Cavanaugh)

And at SAP

It’s a combination of focus on infusing social activities into business processes, drawing in the right people to collaborate on relevant business activities, and then dealing with exception-handling and collaboration planning in more efficient and effective ways than in the past.

So that’s a major trend. Social and business applications should be integrated ? So let’s do it !

We can see three ways of achieving social / business apps integration on the market.

Socialize business tools or bring business back in social networks.

- Socialize business applications : that’s the choice of the vendors who were historically in the field of business applications. Salesforce led the way, starting from CRM, Oracle and SAP followed. Starting with the principle that the matter of collaboration is problem solving and decision makin on events on elements being part of  processes, the idea (quickly put) is to bring collaborative, conversational and social capabilities in their historic applications that host these information, events and elements.

- bring business actions back into social networks : that’s the way chosen by IBM through what they name “embedded experience”. Here, business events and data are displayed in the context of the social platform in an actionable way. And actionability is what makes a difference. In other words, users can make validation, perform actions, enter or edit information without having to leave the social platform to go to the business tool. It’s about interoperability. Business information is visible and actionable in the social context, can become the subject of a conversation, be shared etc.

- bring business alerts into social networks : when something happen in a business application, users receive alerts in their social network. That helps them to stay in the social context without the fear of missing something important and helps moving the center of gravity of the workplace. That’s really important because before people discover and adopt new ways of doing things, they need to be in the tool to be exposed to novelty. And when an alert comes, they follow the link, log into they business app, do what they need, and go back to the social platform. That’s the way chosen by all those who did not chose one of the two previous. The large majority. And every month we can see vendors proudly announcing their ability to make such integrations. What is a great news for all the reasons explained above and usually causes a “Wow” effect in their ecosystem.

Hey… wait a minute !

Vendors keep on reinventing alerting in 2013…and we applaud

For how long consumer tools like Facebook has been able to publish on one’s timeline contents and alerts from third part tools ? For ages. And how did we use to do before being able to receive alerts on consumer or enterprise social networks ? We used to get them in our mailbox. So, aren’t we going into raptures over seeing vendors spending time and money, building large R&D teams to reinvent alerting and introduce a mind-blowing innovation in the workplace : send alerts in the activity stream instead of in mailboxes.

Seriously. I agree it was good in 2009 or 2010 for pioneers. But in 2013 ? The more promising I find the two first ways because they allow to work in a single context the more the last one seems to overlook end-users’ needs. End users need to be “business” and “social” at the same time, in the same context and interface. It drives adoption, improves user experience and make the value proposition in terms of time savings and productivity more credible and obvious.

Listening and following major trends is good. But taking them literally without taking one second to put oneself at the end user’s place, having a technology focused vision without understanding what technology is there fore is a pity. I thought R&Ds has got it for years.

There are three way to bring business and social together :

- simple alerting : in 2013 that’s taking customers for a ride !

- alerting with information sharing : much better

- making business tools actionable in the social context : it’s the only approach that’s worth and the one that should prevail in the future.

 

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