Enterprise 2.0 Introduces a World of Networks of Networks


Enterprise 2.0, the annual conference focused on social media, was held in Boston this week with IBM, Cisco, and Microsoft as major sponsors. The conference makes available a wealth of useful information, mainly in the form of white papers and videos of the keynote presentations, for free. Check it out here.

Last year, the conference focused on the search for the social media killer app for business. The growing consensus then was collaboration. wiredFINANCE covered it here.

This year collaboration is a given. Some other interesting themes, however, emerged in conversations with various key players. For example, Cisco's Murali Sitaram observed that the world appears to be rapidly evolving into a network of networks. What might that imply for your business?

Social media at its core is about creating networks. Facebook, the largest social network by far, enables its subscribers to create networks of friends among whom they communicate. Twitter, the social media micro-blogging giant, lets its subscribers post their thoughts in 140-character snippets, which are distributed to a network of followers who are encouraged to pass them on. Within minutes a message can go viral, expanding exponentially.

Vendors are jumping into the social media space with products that, in one way or another, let people and companies create networks, expand on existing networks, or better manage their rapidly growing and multiplying networks. People and companies end up participating in multiple networks. The result, as Sitaram noted, is a world consisting of networks of networks. Between your employees, partners, and customers, you already are involved in many networks. Once aware of these networks, you can exploit them to advance mutually beneficial objectives. That's essentially what President Obama did to get elected.

Yammer, another Enterprise 2.0 player, provides companies with what amounts to the ability to set up a Facebook-like social media environment within the company. In fact, companies can set up multiple Yammer groups; one for finance, another for budgeting, still another for procurement. You can set up yet a different Yammer group to bring in external partners.

The Yammer groups don't replace your existing finance, budgeting, procurement, CRM, and other systems. Those remain the systems of record. Instead it becomes part of a new, complementary category of systems referred to as systems of engagement. These are the social networking systems you will use increasingly to engage and collaborate with employees, partners, customers, and other stakeholders.

At this point, social networking is about managing the engagement experience. Hank Barnes, principal in Adobe's customer experience management group, suggests a goal of social networking is to turn customers into advocates. Citing a Harvard Business Review article by Roger Martin titled The Age of Customer Capitalism Barnes suggests managers need to change how their companies engage with customers. The way to do that is social networking. Martin's article demonstrates how companies that focus primarily on delivering customer value do better in the long run than companies that primarily aim to create shareholder value.

The business social networking market is hot. IBM, in launching its new IBM Connections, a social networking platform for business with real-time compliance capabilities, noted that IDC has projected social platforms to be a $2 billion market by 2014. Gartner, meanwhile, reported that by the end of 2013, half of all companies will have been asked to produce material from social media websites for e-discovery. The conclusion: when the lawyers start digging into it social networking for business has arrived.

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