Collaboration across organizational departments and silos should be a foundation component for many business transformation initiatives. For this reason, many enterprise software vendors have released products intended to streamline communication among employees, business partners, and others who work together.
Enterprise collaboration. Historically, many of these tools have offered a so-called "collaboration layer" that is disconnected from specific processes and feels like a bolted-on appendage. For example, a typical collaboration layer might consist of fields embedded inside a financial application that show information about the team members working together. It's not collaboration so much as a reference library. As another example, some early collaboration products did nothing more than embed chat capabilities inside existing applications.
More sophisticated collaboration applications rely on two core assumptions:
Collaboration is not a "thing," or layer, but is the outcome of shared activities and interactions that happen when people work together.
Collaboration software should help participants make better decisions and improve the outcomes of ongoing or new business processes. This concept of "process first, collaboration second" is a relatively recent development that has emerged as the market for this software has matured.
The benefits of collaboration software and social products, in general, arise when they help people do their jobs faster, better and more efficiently. In other words, collaboration tools become useful when they help people get stuff done.
SAP Jam. Having watched the evolution of these collaboration products for years, I was interested to meet with SAP's Senior Vice President of Enterprise Social Products, Sameer Patel, during the company's recent Sapphire Now conference.
Patel's vision for enterprise collaboration explicitly recognizes the two assumptions mentioned earlier, which immediately lends credibility to his team's product, called SAP Jam. The Jam product is growing rapidly and already has over 15 million users.
The concept of "work patterns," which Patel introduced last November, lies at the heart of SAP Jam. I asked him to define work patterns:
Work Patterns are a collection of templatized experiences that facilitate frequent interactions in a variety of processes and industries. They span across a user's typical touch points: inside business applications, on the enterprise social network, and any device.
The notion of work patterns may be somewhat confusing because it describes points of interaction among team members as they work together, something we usually take for granted. I asked Patel how his team overcomes this point of possible confusion:
We intentionally communicate work patterns by literal names; so, it is not "work patterns for CRM." Rather, we talk about deal rooms, account planning, service resolution, mentoring, and so on. This cuts the jargon out and applies directly to the buyer. In Jam, you see these literal words in the list of work patterns and it triggers the right one based on what you selected. We felt this was the best way to help the user avoid thinking of features or even social. If you want to manage an account, for example, just select the right pattern.
In practice, the concept is more straightforward than in discussion. Look at this screen, showing a SAP Jam work pattern for opportunity management:
This screen brings together data from multiple sources, to help the sales team understand this particular customer, associated opportunities, and the work needed to close upcoming deals. The power of work patterns lies in how it brings data to people who are working on specific goals or projects. Critically, SAP Jam takes in real-time data from both SAP and non-SAP sources.
I spoke with consulting company, Itaricon, which worked with T-Systems to create a better, more efficient process for selling and creating proposals. In this case, Itaricon uses SAP Jam to bring in data from SugarCRM (obviously, not an SAP product) and facilitate collaboration. Here is a schematic of their collaboration process and associated data:
This example is instructive for a couple of reasons:
Collaboration happens around existing business problems. In this example, there is no social software Kumbaya, which was so prevalent across the collaboration business in previous years; it's all about getting projects out the door faster while ensuring that everyone involved is on the same page through the entire process. In this case, collaboration is a means to achieving business goals better, faster and cheaper.
Data matters most. In this context, collaboration means pulling in the data that people need to make decisions. By opening the proverbial data kimono to accept non-SAP players such as SugarCRM, as one example, SAP has truly done the right thing for users. The decision to allow data from all sources will likely become one of SAP Jam's most compelling competitive advantages.
Sapphire follow up: thoughts on SAP. I have observed SAP since the mid-1990s, and today see a company that is in transition and even turmoil. During the Sapphire conference, CEO Bill McDermott presented little concrete news on the company's forward direction aside from discussing an aspirational theme of simplicity.
I was particularly surprised by SAP's strategy for CRM, now under the umbrella of "customer engagement and e-commerce," following the acquisition of Hybris. During questions with Hybris executives, they equated customer engagement with e-commerce, presumably because every company ultimately wants to drive engagement into a sale.
This approach to CRM appears as a cynical, vendor-oriented view that does not place customer goals and perceptions at the center. Even though we all want to make a sale, brands should not consider customers as mere fodder for an e-commerce marketing engine.
For these reasons, I suggest SAP rethink its view of CRM, emphasizing relationship and engagement rather than management and e-commerce.
Concluding thoughts. Despite lack of clarity in other parts of SAP, the Jam product is focused and represents solid thinking about collaboration and social software. The decision to bring in external, non-SAP data speaks volumes about the Jam team's commitment to doing what is right for customers.
Disclosure: SAP paid for a significant portion of my travel expenses to Sapphire.