Levels of Social – and Integration – Cut Across Enterprises

This week, enjoy another compelling guest post by fellow Austin-ite and colleague Julie Hunt of the Highly Competitive blog.

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When I started writing articles for my blog Highly Competitive, I had in the back of my mind the “classic” advice for professional blogging: pick one main area to cover and as such, show my SME-ness for that area. So I should have selected a particular software solution space and stuck to it.

Well that doesn’t really work for me and isn’t even realistic for anyone analyzing today’s software infrastructures in most companies. As such, I find myself covering multiple software topics, largely due to my diverse software tech background, and it all makes sense as we see more and more overt overlap and interconnection between the different applications of any-size enterprises, and between the activities and processes of how enterprises do business. As enterprises become more customer-focused (outside-in), what has become especially interesting is the evolution of change that eventually will produce Social businesses.

Starting with systems infrastructure, many enterprises have multiple points of integration and interoperability. It is this interrelatedness of systems that increases the business value to the enterprise. Integrations and interconnections are happening at multiple levels in businesses: their IT/application infrastructures, the applications themselves, how teams function in the enterprise interacting with systems and people, and how companies are evolving for doing business and engaging buyers. To become an effective Social Business, enterprises will have to nurture integrated internal systems and processes, as well as social strategies and practices for external and internal collaboration and communication.

social media business data integration enterprise

Enterprises Can’t be Built on Silos – First, a Look at Internal Interoperability

It has become more and more clear that enterprises work better with overtly interconnected systems and business processes. Silos within enterprises both for systems and internal processes have caused a lot of problems. Enterprises, no matter the size, cannot have teams, or systems, operating in vacuums. Where too many silos persist, businesses are doomed, whether the silos are technology or human based.

Understanding how to reduce duplication in systems infrastructure, business processes, team activities, and strategy implementation does much to improve the health of the enterprise. Enterprises want to achieve efficiencies of operation and want to do more with fewer resources, so the elimination of duplications in systems and teams, and the increase of integration (systems) and collaboration (people) is essential.

Since we’re talking about the integrated enterprise, I see enterprise data integration as an illustrative “metaphor”. In most cases data integration endeavors to cut through almost everything in systems infrastructure and involves multiple teams, both IT and Business. Building really good DI processes requires the involvement and collaboration of many teams. Data integration solutions cannot be built in a vacuum to be effective; DI initiatives embody a metaphoric sense of interrelationships and interoperability: process, collaboration, disparate data feeds (information sources) coming together, business rules, business needs. People, business process and technology have worked together to achieve the right results.

Social Capabilities and Strategies Appearing in Many Enterprise Software Solutions

Increasingly, enterprises are introducing and integrating social media for internal and external applications.  And now many “traditional” enterprise solutions are adding / integrating social capabilities, to enhance the usability and relevance of these solutions.

Business cases for social media include: internal implementations for enhanced collaboration and communication purposes for employees; external initiatives for better engagement and support of customers/buyers. Many social media guidelines rightly advise that introducing social practices and technology into an enterprise should come after a thorough understanding of what is to be accomplished, and then after an articulation of the strategy. Additionally, businesses have to figure out what cultural changes need to take place internally, for social to make a big difference. Business social process is something that people have to do authentically. Technology and tools do matter as a means of enacting and managing social business processes, but they are no substitute for strategic planning, best practices, real goals, and serious consideration for the human participants.

Beyond the social media technology that is being adopted by enterprises, many “traditional” enterprise applications are becoming more “social”. This is reasonable considering that software solutions are for use by people, whether employees, customers/buyers, or partners. Most software solutions are components of people-oriented processes. These “socializing” solutions include: BPM, BI, CRM, ERP, internal collaboration / intranet, and content management.

Recently Forrester’s Connie Moore – @cmooreforrester – commented on Twitter: “social computing has become the tipping point for businesses and vendors finally marrying collaboration and process” and then “Collaboration between business and business and business and IT is core to any successful #bpm effort.” Connie Moore has extended her coverage of BPM to include social capabilities that will transform BPM solutions.

For many software industry analysts and writers, there are no longer clear demarcations between software solution spaces.  The “classic” approach of separate software solution categories being covered by SME writers is giving way to analysis that acknowledges the interdependencies of different kinds of software solutions. We are seeing more collaborative work across solutions, with social computing as a common thread of discussion. Analyst firms like Altimeter Group and Forrester are working with more collaborative efforts from their staff analysts across formerly separate software solution spaces to reflect the realities of how enterprises operate.

And People Complete the Integrated Social Business

My tech background has a markedly strong emphasis on people since software companies are very people-intensive enterprises.  Many teams need to collaborate to accomplish company goals and customer needs, with the result that most teams are customer-oriented. If you have a career in software technology, it is essential to recognize the value of people, especially customers. Not surprisingly, many customers of software technology are driving the change to Social Business where the focus is more on people and less on tech.

It’s not just about why people buy or make technology decisions but about respecting people who are trying to accomplish business tasks and solve real problems, and who just want their software to work as advertised without a lot of pain to get there. Software technology ultimately is a product to be sold, so the focus must be on the purpose and real value the technology provides customers.

On the software vendor side, people collaboration should be a top priority: collaborations to sell solutions, collaborations to contribute to customer/buyer success, collaboration with partners and customers for success. Businesses can be very successful if they encourage and engender internal cross-team collaborations focused on customer needs. The growing interest in Social CRM addresses how businesses develop customer relationships to contribute to customer success.

Social is partly about tapping into the connectedness that people are building with the web as a platform.  Social Business adoption by software vendors must be based on the fact that people and relationships are what really drive success and longevity. The lesson to enterprise management: Social media adoption has been driven by the people who want to use it to communicate and work efficiently, no matter the purpose.  Social media invaded enterprises because people really want to use it – because it is effective for what they are tasked to accomplish.

“Social Business” practices have been around for years

The essentials of Social Business have been around for years in many software enterprises – frequently as a “shadow” culture. A lot of employees in the software industry have intuitively understood and practiced aspects of the “social business”, recognizing the importance of the customer and of collaboration.  The process of selling software solutions to enterprises involves a lot of people working with many other people, for internal and external purposes, no matter the sales model.

Ironically employees, customers, partners have been open to adopting social capabilities as part of doing business; the executive level, however, is the laggard for authentic adoption of social collaboration culture and processes. Upper management often has impeded real efforts for social business and has also contributed to creating silos within the company and chasms between teams. Many software companies have been poorly structured for many years to be able to nurture “social business”. Usually not enough people and not enough budget have been allocated for fully supporting strong customer-centric processes and initiatives.

It’s very important that executive and other management levels formalize strategies for Social Business and better empower the many employees who already intuitively know how to find and keep customers/buyers through social relationships and support for customer success.

Fully empowered collaboration with customers and partners will improve sales, product offerings, long-lasting relationships, and will lead to fewer problems. Enterprise teams will be better connected to customers, and to one another. And upper management may finally get real perspective on employee motivations as well as customer desires.