After months of effort, you have finally convinced your organization of the value of social networking at the enterprise level. Executives and management are bought in, a deployment is almost in production and your team is excited to watch users discover new connections and information that will expose tacit knowledge that was once hidden. Then the unthinkable happens...
Walking down the hallway you run into Joe from marketing and share your enthusiasm for the upcoming project. Apparently he also shares the enthusiasm - citing the value that his team has gained from viewing summaries of peer activities using their social networking tool. This is great news... but you haven't rolled out your enterprise solution yet!
Lines of business have a variety of applications that they potentially subscribe to or that are installed specifically for their department. These platforms have now rolled out their own social networking tools - directly in the context of the applications they are using. Since the barrier to designing and developing basic social networks is relatively low, enterprise software vendors are now including native social functionality into CRM, ECM and other systems.
Many organizations already face this challenge with ECM, as 51% use 3+ ECM systems (“Collaboration, Search, And Compliance Drive 2010 ECM Investments.” Forrester December 8, 2009).
Does this break the value of having a dedicated enterprise social network? Yes and no. Collaborative systems provide the most value when integrated with business processes that the users are engaged in. This means that Joe's team is gaining the most benefit from a technology that is integrated into the way they work. The downside is that some of the knowledge captured in an outside solution, along with the profile information in that system, may not be easy to roll back into an enterprise deployment.
We should be asking the question about what really makes sense to span the enterprise. Skill sets, rich profiling and expertise should absolutely be global attributes and strategies to ensure this is not lost or stove-piped should be examined.
Do the networks need to be connected?
Since concepts like "walls" and "activity streams" are only as valuable as the relevancy in the stream to a particular end user, systems do not necessarily need to be connected. For instance, research and development teams are best served seeing information and activity from their peers, opposed to the finance group in their organization.
What does this mean from a governance, regulatory and legal standpoint?
This is perhaps the most complex of all considerations. It will depend on if the audiences using the system(s) are strictly internal, external or a blend of constituents. The information exchanged or industry that an organization resides in will also determine this.
Does this impact overall TCO?
Absolutely. Each network will need business and technical management. For each platform that does not fall within general enterprise operational standards - backup, support and training are going to be added expenses. If you leave a hosted network to move to something onsite or your vendor changes or removes their offering, valuable historical goes away along with it, unless you undertake an integration project to preserve it.
Pragmatic, High-Level Guidance
Overall it is important to consider if tacit knowledge being captured by the social systems is able to be retained and somehow summarized into an overall organizational directory. From a governance, regulatory and legal standpoint it will be critical to ensure that you have enough control over what is able to occur and what transpires in the system so that it can operate within the bounds of compliance. Additionally, the technical maintenance, education and general care of each system will need to be considered - will the benefit be enough to justify these costs? Just as with content systems, it appears inevitable that organizations will run more than one social network, understanding the constraints and disadvantages of various approaches will help you to make the most educated decision for your organization on strategy to navigate the waters of our expanding social enterprises.