Enteprise social business: Integration matters

It's now time for social business to embrace integration with legacy enterprise systems.

At last week's Enterprise 2.0 conference, held in Boston, I was taken aback when one pundit explained that organizations must learn to "do social." This surprise kicked off my comments on a panel discussion about integrating social business tools with traditional enterprise applications.

Click the audio player at the top of this post to hear a recording of the entire panel.

Organizations exist to achieve defined objectives -- Fedex strives to deliver packages faster and more reliably, Starbucks wants sell more coffee, and so on. The entire notion that companies should "do social" as an end goal is just silly. Make money as a goal? Yes. Deliver goods and service as a goal? Yes. Do social as a goal? Resounding no! Social software only has meaning when it adds value to concrete organizational business processes and goals.

Business processes define how people accomplish their work; these processes describe the flow of activities such as collecting money, paying vendors, and so on. Processes enable organizations to execute activities in a consistent and repeatable manner.

Processes also create information silos, which is a problem. For example, the accounting department may use a computer system that does not share information with manufacturing or sales. In many organizations, hodge-podge legacy systems, built over time, create islands of information that drive poor communication across departmental boundaries.

The traditional solution to this problem involves deploying systems such as ERP to connect and integrate diverse systems. While ERP does a great job moving transactional data across departments or functions, these systems don't typically handle the organizational glue of communications among people. Historically, ERP systems were designed to control transactions, not to share unstructured collaboration data.

By enabling processes to become more efficient or yield better results, social tools can offer great value to the enterprise. However, accomplishing this goal requires bringing unstructured social data to the process in which people actually conduct their work. To be useful, social technologies must help people do their jobs, which means integrating with established enterprise systems.

Some vendors recognize the need to integrate social data with transactions, for example:

  • Salesforce.com's Chatter product enables users to access traditional enterprise data mixed with team-oriented collaboration information related to their work flow
  • SAP's Sales OnDemand allows sales people to collaborate while interacting with data stored in the core ERP system
  • Cloud-based ERP vendor, NetSuite, inked deals with Yammer and Qontext to bring collaboration tools into mainstream business processes

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As the gateway to broad enterprise adoption of social business tools, integration is a critical and often overlooked issue.

At the Enterprise 2.0 conference, I participated on a panel, titled Socializing Legacy Applications: Are We There Yet?, that discussed integrating social business with enterprise systems. Analyst Tony Byrne, from the Real Story Group, moderated the panel, which also included Alfred Hsi, who is Director of Research and Innovation at Deloitte.

Enterprise integration is an important and challenging topic sitting at the intersection of enterprise technology, consumer software, organizational culture, and relationships between business users and their IT departments. During the panel discussion I called social business integration the crazy irony topic, because it's so important and yet also misunderstood.

You can hear a podcast recording of the entire panel by clicking the audio player at the top of this post.

The discussion includes engaging comments from audience members on the leading edge of integrating social tools in large organizations and is well worth your listening time.

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