Fusing Collaboration Into Enterprise Applications – Enabling the “Real” Social Enterprise

I, along with many of you, have been watching the evolution of enterprise internal collaboration products/companies such as Yammer, Chatter, Jive, and Cubetree over the years.

I was an early investor in Cubetree which was acquired by SuccessFactors and then became part of SAP when SAP acquired SuccessFactors a short time later. SAP has since renamed Cubetree to SAP Jam and it now serves as the backbone to SAPs collaboration strategy.

These products are supposed to mitigate – eliminate ? – the need for email within the enterprise and dramatically improve internal collaboration offering far easier and superior ways to capture and share information v. email/spreadsheets, etc.

However, if you can get the product managers and/or CEOs of these product/companies to speak candidly off the record, with rare exception, the adoption level of these products has been far less than the creators and the companies that purchased these solutions had hoped for.

Why? I have a simple thesis. Collaboration within the enterprise usually takes place among people who share a common goal/objective. And, more typically, the collaboration revolves around a project or a process that people need to execute. The problem with current collaboration solutions is that they are not tightly integrated into the fabric of the applications that functional teams use to perform the processes they need to execute to get their work done.

If I am part of a marketing team in a B2C company, I want and need to be able to collaborate with my outside ad agencies, legal department, graphic designers, product managers, account teams when I create a new ad for one of my product lines. I want an application that actually “embeds” collaboration into the process with workflow, role-based authentication; not a separate collaboration product that sits outside the application and operates orthogonal to the process.

If I am trying to generate a forecast, I want to be able to collaborate with my team members – my sales engineer, the product team, legal team  – regarding product availability, pricing, terms, etc. I don’t want a separate collaboration product that forces me to remember to communicate with my team members outside the forecasting application.

If I am part of an engineering team and I want to discuss whether or not a certain feature should be linked into the next build process, I should be able to collaborate with product management, sales, legal, etc. within the development applications I am using, not be forced to use a separate application outside the application.

The minute I am required to communicate/collaborate outside the process application, email becomes a much easier mechanism and something I am far more comfortable using. It has the added benefit of working both internally and externally to the enterprise. And, that is precisely why email remains the primary communication vehicle for collaboration.

I believe there is an opportunity to completely revamp all enterprise applications. SaaS was a good first step making enterprise applications far easier to implement, manage and use. The next step is to modify all enterprise applications such that collaboration is built into the fabric of their architecture. All enterprise applications – that are focused on solving a business process – should have 5 primary elements:

  1. Content  – the ability to create/capture, review, approve and share relevant content
  2. Tools/Workspace  – enable the user to perform relevant work on the content
  3. Workflow — technology that enables everyone to see the status of work that has been assigned and being performed
  4. Scheduling – assign tasks, owners, deliverables, due dates to content/work being performed
  5. Collaboration- the ability for teams – both internal and external – to review, discuss, approve and share content

There are other elements but these, I believe, are 5 that are common to every enterprise process and therefore every enterprise process application should support at least these 5 elements.

The missing element from nearly all legacy enterprise applications is Collaboration. As a result, there is an opportunity for new enterprise applications to emerge that fuse collaboration into their architecture.

A really good example of what I am referring to is what Opal Labs has done. They have built an enterprise application targeting B2C marketers that enables them to create new ad content, work with agencies, get legal sign-off, etc. all from within the application. They have thought about the entire end-end process that a B2C marketer needs to go through to create an ad campaign and their application handles the entire process — including collaboration internally and externally.

There is no need to resort to email or other external applications to get the job done. Take a look at the construction of Opal’s UI. This, I believe, is the framework for enterprise applications of the future and Collaboration 2.0.

Collaboration isn’t a separate product, it should be embedded into the fabric of everything we do. This is the real future of “the social enterprise”. If I were SAP, Jive, Salesforce, etc. I would stop trying to sell their collaboration solutions separately and start trying to OEM them to the creators of enterprise application software with flexible APIs and pricing models that support an OEM distribution strategy.

  • Nice post, Bruce.

    We have always threaded the collaboration platform across our apps. Now with our latest release (http://ow.ly/ycvE3) we enable this both ways – bring in third party data and content into SAP Jam and embed SAP Jam into both SAP and third party apps.

    One thing though: the view you describe is a process centric one. That’s no doubt significantly better than stand alone collaboration. I love how it blends transactional and engagement aspects of that process. But to build on it and make it truly user centric, you need one collaborative fabric to thread across this marketing process and the other 3-4 work patterns that each user goes through every day.

    So glad you commented on this topic – you know more than most do about this space. Hope you’re well.

    • I think you are definitely headed in the right direction, Sameer. I don’t know what the pricing model is for Jam at this point but if you can make it a low COGS element of new applications and offer it to 3rd party developers to embed in their apps, then I think you are on to something. I do think SAP and the rest of the “enterprise app” companies should look at Opal Labs and their UI — to me, that is the way we should “consumerize” enterprise apps going forward. They’ve done a very nice job, IMHO.

  • Mike Moore

    Great topic! I agree that the internal enterprise social collaboration has fallen far short of its promise. I have a slightly different thesis – one that mirrors the realities of social network apps in the consumer world, and that is that it takes critical mass for a social networking platform to become useful, and once it reaches critical mass, it builds on itself through those same social connections. Facebook dominates the personal social networks and LinkedIn dominates the personal-business related world. It is very hard for a new entry, even one as large as Google to enter the market once the industry standard platform is in place. Why would you switch to Google+ when all of your connections are on Facebook?

    The same challenge exists in the enterprise space. As a CIO, just about every new application that I’m pitched by a vendor has their own proprietary social networking component. I’ll get excited about that as soon as someone explains to me how a user is going to be more productive by doing less email and instead checking the 17 different social networking tools they now have across every application they use in their job. Let say you have a question about an order for customer training and who gets commission credit – which apps social tool do you post your question in – Marketing? CRM? LMS? Commissions?

    Collaboration becomes much more valuable when it spans across the organization. While it’s nice for the member of a single department to share, where companies struggle much more is in the cross-organizational communication and collaboration.

    What we need is an open standard for social networking across applications. Something that does exactly what Bruce outlined in terms of application awareness but eliminates the completely siloed approach we have today. It will be a challenge as naturally the each vendor wants to own the collaboration content and not just plug into something larger. But until there is a unified approach, think of application specific social platforms like the phone system in the US, except one where your AT&T phone can’t connect to anyone who has a Verizon phone….

    Mike Moore

    • Agreed, Mike. We need an equivalent to what TCP/IP became in networking for collaboration technology. Something that all can use but is low cost and ubiquitous. Perhaps a company like SAP has the financial wherewithal to submit something like Jam as a Open Source project. That can be hard to do, as we know, when there are big expenses associated with these contributions and subsequently little revenue.