Many companies, whether considering further investment in their SharePoint 2007 deployments or planning upgrades to SharePoint 2010, are reviewing their social media strategies. Users are chomping at the bit to deploy and use the new, natively supported social media features in SharePoint 2010, and looking to the Microsoft partner ecosystem to extend their capabilities outside of the box. But many CIOs are concerned with the impacts these tools will have on security, support and maintenance costs, and end user productivity. These are all valid concerns, but making the connection between social tools and personal productivity might help sell them on the idea.
Granted, SharePoint is not (yet) known for the strength of its social tools. But then again, it can be argued that the most popular consumer-based social tools have very limited business utility.
Don't confuse the business value of these consumer-based social tools with similar capability inside SharePoint, as the same capability applied in a business setting – and as part of your SharePoint strategy – can provide tremendous value. Enterprises need new ways to:
generate and take action on innovative ideas;
connect those ideas across the organization and beyond geographical divides;
deliver some form of semantic search capability that can understand what the users are looking for, and then to promulgate ideas and artifacts based on context; and to
collaborate in more powerful and meaningful ways across the enterprise.
At their core, all enterprise collaboration systems, web content management systems, and social networks serve the same fundamental purpose : the sharing of information between teams, and of providing new ways for them to connect. In the evolution of the enterprise application, social computing is quickly becoming the de facto method for search.
I would venture that most administrators do not fully understand the underlying metadata, taxonomy, and data governance issues within SharePoint that are associated with social computing solutions. Managing social computing in SharePoint follows the same rules and best practices of the rest of the platform, requiring governance around permissions, usage and activity, storage, and ongoing auditing. But the most difficult part of building any social computing strategy is translating end user requirements into achievable and measurable actions that help you meet your business objectives.
End users want the technology to fit the way they work (which is why so many gravitate toward the latest consumer-driven social tools), instead of requiring them to work a different way to fit the technology (what many enterprise applications usually require). The trick is to deliver what they want in a way that makes sense to the business, and can be tracked and measured by your key performance indicators. Oh yeah…. and within budget. Many companies are finding that SharePoint 2010 out-of-the-box can provide many of the features their end users are looking for. For those who require custom features for their social computing strategies, remember that SharePoint is a highly flexible and customizable platform, with a healthy ecosystem of partners and solution providers that can provide deep vertical expertise to meet those specific needs.
The key to tying social computing to productivity is to first understand the business gap that they fill, and then to help your end users understand the context (specific use cases, business processes) in which to use them. Provide guidance, best practices, and working examples on how to align these tools with their roles and responsibilities. Develop your plan, train your team, and begin leveraging the many capabilities of SharePoint to meet your future social computing and collaboration needs.