I wanted to avoid the dramatic posting of trends that are brief, and fail to either say all that much, or provide the necessary context and rationalization for positions taken. Instead, I thought I would take some time to reflect on what is happening and assess some of the transitions in a way that you hopefully find helpful. This first post concerns Enterprise 2.0 and social network sites:
Trend: The focus of “Enterprise 2.0”-related solutions will expand from social network sites to social applications hosted on the social network site itself and social networking services capable of adding social context to productivity suites, collaboration tools, enterprise portals, business processes, and mobile applications.
Level of insight: Re-stating what should be a fairly obvious trend
Detail: In general, the first wave of Enterprise 2.0 was arguably tool-based (e.g., stand-alone blogs, wikis). The second wave of Enterprise 2.0 focused on enabling an enterprise-wide destination (e.g., a “Corporate Facebook”) which acted as a community and connectivity hub for employees. More accurately, we might describe this type of platform as a social network site (Reference Architecture For Social Network Sites). The third wave of Enterprise 2.0 is moving in two directions virtually in parallel to each other.
The initial direction is to support social applications hosted on the social network site itself. The most common examples I’ve seen so far are innovation/ideation solutions but organizations will likely want to construct their own community-like applications on top of their social network site as well. To enable this type of application delivery, social network sites need to develop the type of platform interfaces needed by application developers and third-party vendors. This effort will not go to waste since these types of integration capabilities (e.g., REST, JSON, Atom/AtomPub, OpenSocial, Activitystrea.ms, microformats), will be necessary to extend the horizontal value of social network sites.
This horizontal trend is the second direction within this third wave of Enterprise 2.0 implementations. Social networking services will enable organizations to take social data within the social network site and surface that information contextually within another system (e.g., productivity suites, collaboration tools, enterprise portals, business processes, and mobile applications). The somewhat open-ended question that remains is what do we mean by "social networking services" beyond the technical interfaces. Does that we begin to think of social networking services from a people and business perspective (e.g., a follow service, an expertise location service)? I hope so...
Implications: As I stated above, this is not an unexpected occurrence. If you have a platform that delivers generic functionality (profile, social graph, tagging, blog, wiki, community, etc), an enterprise will want to customize and extend that general-use platform to better met specific organizational needs. And if you have a lot of really interesting information locked up in that platform, it’s pretty natural to want to integrate that information within other systems where it can be helpful. The recent discussions within the Enterprise 2.0 community have indicated that E2.0 should have greater process-centricity (e.g., integration with CRM, ERP, supply chain, etc). This type of pragmatic approach is more doable as vendors in this space prioritize API's to integrate "social" into the flow of work and adding a social layer as many have argued.
However, another strategic outcome of this trend will be that the social network site will begin to encroach on decisions made earlier regarding portals, collaboration, etc. The trend itself is not terribly important. What is important is to understand the derivative impacts from what is being put into motion going forward. The secondary and tertiary impacts of a social network site selected as a stand-alone destination are much different than the criteria and discussions that might have occurred when thinking of that social platform as part of your core infrastructure. A check-point is worth pursuing. You may come out with a validation of the current approach – or you may not. Either outcome is valuable. How organizations manage this transition (from destination site to platform infrastructure) is the important take-away from the trend.
Below are some of the frequently asked questions I have encountered over the years as organizations (e.g., enterprise architects) assess these types of situations:
- How do we (the enterprise) define a platform? Is it by domain (e.g., collaboration, enterprise content management, social network site, enterprise portal) or is it by some set of unified application and infrastructure services?
- Is “social” viewed as a standalone decision or part of a collaboration platform?
- Is the social platform extensible enough to satisfy current and future business scenarios – especially at technology domains converge?
- If there is a desire to leverage shared services and common infrastructure, what platform is best suited to deliver the broadest array of solutions?
- What are the pro’s and con’s of using multiple platforms if there is a business case for a specialized or best-of-breed solution for a particular domain (e.g., social network site)? Can a domain-specific solution be integrated with the core platform and infrastructure that the organization prefers to leverage?
- Does the platform support the application and management of security, identity, and compliance/records management policies to mitigate risk concerns?
- Does the platform offer multiple deployment options (e.g., on-premises, cloud, hybrid)?
- Does the platform (and vendor) support the desired application delivery environment your developer’s are accustomed to working in?
- Is the platform drawing long-term R&D investments by the vendor and capable of establishing a thriving market ecosystem?
If there is a key summary point I'm trying to make it's that "architecture matters". I hope you find this post helpful...