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The five evils of enterprise social

By Matt Calkins, CEO, Appian, special to Network World
March 01, 2013 03:26 PM ET

Network World - 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.

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