Social media is pervasive in business today. And its power to create collective awareness and consensus has put...
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it on the radar of organizations of all kinds.
Collaboration platforms like SharePoint 2013, when integrated with social media tools such as Yammer, are facilitating new business processes. Spontaneous contributions to business events, ongoing dialogue about operations, and contribution of knowledge and feedback all improve enterprise operations in the ways that count.
But despite return on investment, social media integration isn't yet part of the core applications of most organizations. Could it make a difference there, and if so, how? As yet, there's no clear path, no standard, no best practice.
After all, social media events tend to be unstructured and spontaneous; social media objects tend to conform to no particular format or standard; and social media data, when it's available, tends to be restricted in purpose and standalone in delivery, not really associated with business data.
But is that the end of the story? Is it possible, in spite of these limitations, to bring the benefits of social media into core business applications?
Injecting social media into applications
With those core applications -- which can cover a staggering spectrum, from accounting systems to inventory control, from human resources software to ERP to CRM -- carefully and strategically defined endpoints are key to the quality of their input and output. Where can social media touch those systems for the better? Here are some possibilities.
Workflow: With every new release, enterprise application vendors are building additional workflow into their products. Increasingly, automation of business processes is a strategic imperative; reduction in time of execution, cost of operation and human error are essential to competitive edge in the increasingly agile marketplace. In the past, workflow wasn't as robust or fault-tolerant. Today, many if not most, enterprise application providers offer versatile workflow that can deal with interruption and error effectively.
Enter social media. While the selective draw and systematic crunch of data define the internal events of most enterprise applications, workflow and the flow of social media share similar goals: information moving through the enterprise, seeking human attention and intervention. It is now possible, and increasingly desirable, to find opportunities to merge those streams -- to incorporate the collective voice of the enterprise in approval processes. Given the current friendliness of social media platforms to Web service access and XML interfaces, this is a promising new use case for social media.
Reporting: Sophistication in enterprise reporting, with the current ubiquity of dashboards and key performance indicators (KPIs), also opens doors for social media integration. The same Web service/XML friendliness is now prevalent in even the most vanilla enterprise application reporting modules, as upper management has come to expect critical numbers in the media of its choosing.
It's a matter of endpoints, and since the endpoints can now be anything, why not social media? SharePoint is already a popular repository for KPIs originating in other systems. And if numbers can be served up on social form dashboards, why not introduce them directly into the social media stream? This can help tear down silos, lateralize awareness of enterprise performance, and it may stimulate the group mind in serendipitous ways.
Quality assurance (QA): Finally, there's the QA process -- also important in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Within IT itself, there's a concept called "iterative development," which means taking multiple stabs at getting a new piece of software right by building it over and over, improving it slightly with each pass and scoring the improvements.
Social media is tailor-made for such a methodology. It is commonplace for those participating in social information streams to contribute, go elsewhere, return, update, contribute and so on. As with workflow, there's a great deal of conceptual overlap already in place between social media processes and iterative development. Why not iterative business processes, refined by cyclic review and approval from many participants (at many levels), and audited and measured for improvement with each cycle?
These possibilities sound far-fetched, and they are, but they're also all achievable with technology that's already available (and, often in place) today. It's a matter of thinking outside the box, being willing to try new things with social media, and letting them fail until they don't. After all, 10 years ago, social media for business was far-fetched.