100 Brains: Tibco's Ram Menon on the future of enterprise social networking

Let's face it, enterprise social networking is getting confusing. Tibco's Ram Menon talks about the future of streamlining communications -- and how companies can talk to their applications.

Let's face it, it's the time of social media exposure. We have thousands of pundits and a new social network or application crops up nearly every day. This is overwhelming enough for consumers, but for enterprises that are trying to stay ahead of the game and use collaborative tools for productivity, it's a challenge. Many large companies are stuck in the habit of bandwagoning on popular external tools, but when really looking at enterprise productivity, does it help them to know what their customers are doing on the weekends? Tibco, with its tibbr product, promises to bring sense to enterprise social media with an ability to not only spur sharing and people collaboration, but also better communication with key applications and processes that are critical to running their businesses. Ram Menon is chief marketing officer and executive vice president of worldwide strategy for Tibco. Some might say tibbr is his "baby," as he lead the strategy and development of this product. In the latest installment of 100 Brains, I spoke with Menon about Tibco's aggressive move into enterprise social software, the future of electronic communications, and his future outlook for social.

Q. Tibco is known as an infrastructure company – how does your experience and history serve you within the social software arena?

A. We’ve spent 10+ years helping enterprise customers and industries alike become what we call “event-driven” by pioneering concepts such as “real time” and “publish and subscribe”, because business is not about return on investment anymore, but rather a return on minutes or seconds. Our experience and history with managing and connecting events, processes, applications and decisions across private and public networks in real time can and should be applied to how companies use social business software within an enterprise environment. With this approach, systems, processes and applications (whether it is a mainframe or supply chain) can become social, so data is transformed into knowledge – to make informed decisions and take ongoing action – for a sustainable competitive advantage.

Q. What is it about your technology that makes it better than other approaches?

A. “Social networking” as we know it doesn’t transplant well into the enterprise and here’s why: a social-networking medium connects people and omits making systems a part of the conversation. Though it’s vital that people connect, it’s equally vital for enterprises to connect through subjects that offer material value to the person following it. We can all attest, value in a business environment doesn’t come from all the chatter, but from the unique mix of event streams generated by people, processes and systems. Our social business software, tibbr, allows anyone (people) and anything (systems) of relevance to connect to granular subjects of your choosing, so information can easily find you. What tibbr creates is “essential” connections between people and people, and people and systems.

Q. Do you believe social software will replace any traditional enterprise tools, such as email?

A. The average user spends over 30 percent of his day creating, organizing, reading and responding to e-mail. IDC says e-mail volume has doubled over the past 5 years to over 40 billion person-to-person e-mails every day and that number is expected to grow 18 percent in each of the next five years. I don’t see how email will continue to reign as the sustainable mode of communication at this rate. No doubt it will still be used in the enterprise, but I think it will become far better suited for very specific “logging on and off” tasks. By combining relevance and flexibility in a secure environment social business software has the power to minimize dependencies on email. Let me explain: relevance represents what you need to see segmented by subject, such as the newest information bubbling up from all sources or event streams whether it is a system, RSS feed or even a colleague down the hall in another department, and flexibility represents the ability to choose the frequency, manner and form in which you receive it, such as an SMS while travelling or an email after 5 p.m. Dealing with the data deluge in the work place today means getting the right information, in the right context for better, faster decision making.

Q. What reasons for delaying social software adoption are you hearing from customers?

A. Something big is brewing beneath the surface of enterprise organizations, because every company we meet is curious about social ‘business’ media. But the fundamental issue does not reside in the interest of applying social software to an enterprise environment, but in overcoming enterprise hesitation of adoption for three reasons: compliance, security and uptime.

Q. What do you think will happen in social media for 2011?

A. As we head into 2011, I think we will witness the first step forward toward mass adoption of social business software in the enterprise, especially as it becomes more relevant to an individual’s job. Instead of following one massive stream of events, people will be able organize and filter the information they receive.

Q. Social media for personal communication has changed the way people interact, however, do you think this same technology has similar staying power within the enterprise, or is it just a fad and people capitalizing on consumer-level success?

A. If businesses want to attract and keep a new generation of workers, they will need to adapt new ways of working. Currently, our children have more advanced technology at home than we have in the workforce. The Millennial generation is used to getting information anywhere, anytime, and businesses must find ways emulate this in the workplace.

Q. Finally, what’s one thing you want to make sure readers know about the web, social, etc.?

A. I think in 2011 and beyond, context will be the word you hear the most – because information without context is not actionable.

Social Business "100 Brains" is a series of 100 interviews with some of social media's most compelling "thinkers" and "tinkerers." Each interview aims to showcase each subject's most unique perspectives and talents. Interviews will run until December 31, 2010. Know a top "thinker" or "tinkerer"? Send an email using the form below.

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