In a very visible (and heavily Tweeted) survey last year conducted by Avanade, over 1,000 business and IT leaders and 4,000 end users were asked about the impacts of social technologies on enterprise collaboration. While there was strong usage of enterprise social networking among respondents (77 percent and 68 percent, respectively), the Avanade survey results and analysis present a polarized view on the value that social technologies bring to the table. While SharePoint is not known historically for the strength of its social tools, this story is changing rapidly due to advances in the SP2013 platform, the acquisition of Yammer in 2012, and Microsoft's move to a more agile development model where new features will be released in a rapid cadence, moving the Microsoft release cycle from multiple years to months, or even weeks.
But then again, it can be argued that the most popular consumer-based social tools have very limited business utility. According to the survey, the most popular social networking platforms in the enterprise are Facebook and Twitter. But "most used" does not necessarily equal "best fit." 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.
Many companies, whether considering further investment in their SharePoint 2010 deployments or planning upgrades to SharePoint 2013 or Office 365, are reviewing their social media strategies. Regardless of version used, SharePoint users are anxious to figure out how Yammer will fit into their organization, how to best take advantage of the natively supported social features, or how extend all of it with the help of the Microsoft partner ecosystem. But many CIOs are concerned with the impacts these tools will have on security and governance, 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.
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
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 2013 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.