Forcing Things Social

I’m at Salesforce.com’s Cloudforce event in London, where the company is launching a new mobile version of its Chatter business social network.
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor and  Mary Branscombe, Contributor

I’m at Salesforce.com’s Cloudforce event in London, where the company is launching a new mobile version of its Chatter business social network. It’s something that seems an interesting departure for a company that began life offering CRM-as-a-service, but when you look at Chatter in more detail it starts to make a lot of sense.

Back in my consulting days we made a lot of noise about preparing businesses for the coming multi-channel world. We even attempted to deliver a few projects, most of which struggled against the headwinds of the prevailing corporate culture. But things have changed, with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff showcasing survey results that showed just how prevalent social media is in business. The result of his company's research is Chatter, now available on iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry (with Android due early next year).

Chatter is a Facebook-like approach to business social networking, where users can subscribe to status updates from other users. So far, so familiar. Threaded messages mean it’s easy to collaborate, and easy to share documents and content. Benioff points to a significant decrease in email traffic inside Salesforce.com after the company began using Chatter – along with the ability to identify individuals who contribute content and answers (as well as those who have the rarer skill of asking just the right question). A travel agency using Chatter has seen agents close four times as many cases a day, as they’re able to share information no matter where they are in the world.

If that was all Chatter did, it would certainly be a useful tool. It’s its differences that really make it worth considering – because people aren’t the only first class citizens in the Chatterverse. Documents and business process are also part of Chatter. If you’re collaborating on a presentation, you can subscribe to it, getting updates of edits and changes. You can also get messages from business processes, delivering alerts when something is not quite right – letting you quickly link a conversation to a Salesforce.com workflow.

One Cloudforce demonstration showed how this might work, with an alert from a service application being used to drive a conversation between several Chatter users, resulting in a collaborative solution to the problem that might not have been developed if traditional processes had been used. A problem that might have hung about in an in-tray was solved by the person who already ahd the right answer, with no need for additional research. The relevant documentation quickly became part of the Chatter thread, ready to be added to the corporate knowledge base.

The idea that things and software are part of a social network is a fascinating one. It’s a world where your electricity meters warn you when you’re starting to exceed your sustainability budget, where your stock system IMs you to let you know that according to a message from the planning service you’re probably going to be short a few widgets…

Social is about a lot more than hanging out online with your friends. It’s about efficient communication in real time – where context is king and the right piece of information at the right time can save a company time and money. It’s a brave new world, where chatty software and devices will take advantage of social media. As software gets better at communicating and interacting, we’ll find that the Turing Test will be passed in a 140 character chunks…

After all who needs talking robots, when they can tweet?

Simon Bisson

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