Dubbed Web 2.0, this revolution in computing has shifted the face of software from a logical, linear, and introverted science to an expressive, graphical and social art. New designers of web sites, unschooled in traditional software techniques, are nonetheless able to create software that scales to millions of users and billions of objects of information and still meld those users into an artistically aware community. The next generation of enterprise employees who started using the internet in their early teens have only known this evolving culture of free and creative development of the internet and now demand better of the enterprise software that they meet. Older employees also know that that the software that they use on a day to day basis can be better. Enterprise 2.0 seeks to emulate the success of Web 2.0 in the creation of new software for the enterprise.
The shift of computing power from business logic and calculation to socialization and people-orientation has been dubbed by some as Social Computing. The term Social Computing has been used interchangeably with Enterprise 2.0 or Enterprise Social Applications, however, IBM and Microsoft have created Social Computing research centers and Forrester has started to use the term in describing next generation enterprise collaboration. Social Computing is the use of technology to support sharing of information and enabling collaboration through social networks and to tap into the value of the “Wisdom of Crowds”, a concept made famous by James Surowiecki in 2004 to explain how many people are smarter than individual experts. Social Computing exploits software oriented toward people and Social Networks, the extended relationships of individuals, to connect to more people and access the Wisdom of Crowds.
To tap into the wisdom and awareness of social networks and empower people to collaborate at any time or place, Social Computing platforms need the following capabilities:
- People – Support information about people, their preferred communications, their relationships and affiliations, since social networking is all about people rather than just systems, data and objects. The more information available about other users, the more likely they can be found as a source of knowledge.
- Context of Networks – Social networks organized around projects, teams and departments provide the context of work and relevance of information as it spreads from creation to the people that need that information. Social networks, especially networks extended beyond the enterprise, provide the greatest differentiation of social computing from previous generations of collaboration.
- Social Collaboration – Provide an environment where people can share ideas, contribute knowledge and solve problems in creative, unstructured socialization as opposed to rigorous workflows that are required for control of information. Next generation tools use techniques developed by Web 2.0, particularly those tools that empower social knowledge, such as social tagging, integration of communication and awareness of changes in social networks.
- Content as a Service – Content is the container of knowledge and information and is core to the socialisation of information. Content needs to be accessible everywhere, not just in large, monolithic applications. Content capabilities need to be accessible as reusable service components. Social computing can happen inside the enterprise or outside and a channel can be a web site, web application, mobile device or even external web platforms such as Facebook or Google applications. Mashups can occur inside the enterprise or outside and the channel will require content as a service that can securely be accessed wherever it is needed or wherever it is contributed.
- People-centric Tools – As Web 2.0 has spread new paradigms of user interaction, the consumerization of software has created expectations that enterprise software becomes easier and empowers user to contribute, correct and classify content and information within the context of social networks. AJAX and next generation rich internet application interfaces such as Adobe Flex will provide users with a much richer, more intuitive user experience and the ability to scan much more social knowledge to find ideas and solutions. These tools should themselves be componentized and accessible as a service so that they may be mashed up with other sources of social knowledge.
This does not mean that the need for traditional enterprise content technologies such as document and records management goes away. They are still repositories of the truth and verifiable information and thus play an important role in sharing knowledge within social networks. However, these traditional technologies lack the usability, empowerment, and breadth of reach that Web 2.0 sites provide. They lack the collaborative nature that invites in people without barriers and restrictions to contribute to the sharing of knowledge and information. Web content management for creating a richer Web 2.0-style user interface becomes even more important to this collaboration to provide a compelling face to the interaction and to simplify the access and navigation of shared information. For Enterprise Content Management to be part of this change it needs to addresses the requirements of Social Applications.
Use of Social Computing
The balance is shifting from contained and controlled companies to engaged and empowered collaborative enterprises driven by Web 2.0-inspired social computing. At the center of the shift from old models of computing in the enterprise to new social models are companies that are inspired to innovate or to engage more with their customers. This includes companies not just using their internet or intranet web sites, but engaging in social networking channels such as Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. Those using social computing are interested in engaging people, such as customers, employees or partners. They are using new people-centric tools and facilitate creating or extending existing social networks.
All major ECM vendors are all planning their Social Computing efforts and to a large extent are being dragged in this direction by their more forward-looking customers. Some of our customers that I work with are seeing the value of Social Computing thru:
- Closer connections with the customer organisations that particularly address a younger demographic must engage their customers as part of both the marketing process as well as the development of new products. For example, games and film companies that engage their viewers in plot and scene development do much better than those that keep everything under wraps until the game or film is ready.
- Enterprises hiring a new generation of knowledge workers who grew up on the internet must provide tools as empowering as those available from Web 2.0. Turning these tools off forces these workers to seek employment elsewhere and forcing them to use tools that do not meet their expectations of usability and engagement.
- Financial Services firms are leading the shift in usage of these technologies. Financial Services have always been innovators in developing new technologies and investing in providing better service for their clients. Speed in innovation in these services becomes a major competitive advantage where churn of clients can be very high in turbulent times. Internally, competition for talent is intense and providing better support is important for attracting and retaining employees. In particular, young and ambitious brokers and managers are more likely to be sociable themselves and seek out Social Computing inside and outside the enterprise.
- Government and Non-Profit organisations that provide services and citizen feedback online find increasing their IT budgets much easier than those that merely arbitrated by a front-line service. It is now inconceivable for a politician to run for office without an extended internet presence such as Facebook or YouTube (think about the last Australian election).
- Enterprises that have faster cycles of product innovation, especially high tech, are looking to their customers and partners to participate in the development of new products and services. In previous generations, the field acted as a filtering mechanism of new customer requirements and ideas. However, today technology can provide a frictionless way of getting the entire enterprise to exchange ideas and improvements with the customer communities.