Social software is improving collaboration

Automation of business processes can improve how information is managed. However, many activities that rely on groups of people to collectively share information and make decisions cannot be fully automated.

Automation of business processes can improve how information is managed. However, many activities that rely on groups of people to collectively share information and make decisions cannot be fully automated.

Social software represents a different design perspective to support groups and the social networks that connect people to each other.

Many experts associate social software with specific types of tools, such as blogs, wikis, tagging and social bookmark services. The focus, however, should be on understanding the design criteria and adoption patterns.

This enables developers to deploy applications that support a group context and allows people to easily recombine one application with another in mashups, for example.

Social software encourages informal interaction and helps people organise themselves based on community participation and information sharing.

Enterprises should be aware that social software can help technologists create environments that improve how teams and communities perform and innovate. This software represents a different way to look at system design. Rather than concentrate only on data and process requirements, social software forces developers to accommodate the tacit aspects of how work is done.

Formal institutions around knowledge management practices and learning methods should not be replaced, but social software can augment existing structures and processes around distance learning, enterprise taxonomies and enterprise content management.

People learn best in the context of their work and often through peer interaction. Social software focuses on “the edge” by making it easier for people to interact and share information that might not be available through formal channels. Social software provides a balance to more formalised processes around knowledge management and learning.

Some enterprises have deployed blogs and wikis internally around specific applications and have achieved success in areas of business intelligence and programme/project management. So why has social software not found its way into enterprises on a broader scale?

Although some products, such as Traction Software for blogs, Socialtext for wikis and other open source options, have found their way into enterprises, the technology has yet to be pushed by a major enterprise software supplier. This will change.

Microsoft plans to include blog and wiki capabilities within Office, and IBM has demonstrated similar capabilities within its Notes/Domino platform. IBM also has an internal product called Dogear (tagging and social bookmark) that will be made available this year as Lotus Connections. Microsoft also offers Knowledge Network, which adds expertise and social networking capabilities to Office Sharepoint Server 2007.

Some companies, such as IBM, have incorporated social networking analysis into their business consulting practices. When blogs are used for marketing and public relations, firms are available to provide professional services as well.

Professional services are related to how these tools are applied. They will be solution-focused and tools are incorporated into existing practices.

Similar trends have occurred in other areas, such as enterprise portals and enterprise content management, where suppliers are under pressure as once-specialised technology becomes commoditised as general infrastructure. The key for these suppliers will be to focus on applications and vertical market products or specific infrastructure services that extend what major suppliers provide as a core framework.

Contact Networks, for instance, has a social networking platform that targets sales and has expanded its focus to professional services and legal. Traction Software has targeted competitive intelligence as one professional application with its social software tools.

Technologists have become more knowledgeable in understanding business requirements. The result has been a steady improvement in the way enterprise applications and infrastructure are planned, built and deployed to support the process and information management needs of organisations.

What has not been equally well understood is how to support the softer issues and organisational dynamics. This is the realm of social software and the design principles, methods and practices that it encourages. By 2010, we will see a new breed of technologist who fully understands how to design and implement systems that focus on groups, their relationships, their interactivities and the networks that connect them.

Such systems and environments will be service oriented, with well-defined metamodels and metadata, enabling them to be integrated with applications such as workflow or decision-support systems.

They can also be extended in ways not conceived by the original designers, much like mashups today, as groups construct their own personal, team or community spaces to interact, share information or collaborate.

Implementing social software in the enterprise

● Governance is critical. If your organisation is not ready for informal, community-centric practices to improve communication, information sharing and collaboration, social software will likely fail in a general sense (it may still succeed if applied around specific applications)
● Include groups involved in organisational development and human capital management
● Expect a short lifecycle for any investment
● Continue to monitor the market and the maturity of the technology
● Do not standardise too quickly on a single supplier
● Investigate and document both project success and failure.
Source: Burton Group

Mike Gotta is a principal analyst at Burton Group


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